Saturday, April 28, 2007

Education Politics

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair meets Autism Campaigners
The Autism Awareness Campaign UK are calling on the on Government to tackle the failure of secondary schools in bringing in educational strategies to deal with autistic children in a mainstream setting. Tony Blair conceded the government needs to do more."

Parents Should Do Their Homework To Aid Autistic Child's Education
Oliver Wendt, a "Purdue University professor, says the challenges of educating a child diagnosed with various autism disorders are best met by parents. It's important for parents to keep an overview of how different programs are affecting the child. There is no tried and true method. Education needs to be tailored to fit each individual child. Parents know a child's likes, dislikes and breaking points better than anyone."

I'll summarise:

* schools are falling
* parents are best placed to meet their children education needs

Unfortunately, the government seems to believe that "experts" and "professionals" are the good, clever guys, while the families are problems they need to sort out. But lets not go there...

Last month, in Westminster Hall, there was a debate on Education and Autistic Children, with Lee Scott urging the government to address the failure of secondary schools to come up with education strategies to deal with autistic students. Education Other Than At School is not mentioned, not even once, not even now that a few experts are becoming aware of its benefits. For example, Tony Attwood, "a practicing clinical psychologist with more than 25 years
experience with over 2000 individuals of all ages with Asperger’s Syndrome" considered to be "one of the world's top experts on AS" said:

"I have always found home schooling to be a positive option that has literally saved the lives of many children. I have always been an advocate for homeschooling and have supported a number of families who have considered this option."

Anyway, back to the debate... At one point Lee Scott says:

"Baroness Warnock is right to say that inclusion "springs from hearts in the right place". Many of us have at some time been seduced by the theory of inclusion, which seems so nice and reasonable and politically correct, but there is clear evidence that it does not work for every autistic child. Many parents know that inclusion is not appropriate and that that policy is failing their child. We need to make available to every autistic child the form of education that will give them the most effective learning environment. We should support inclusion, but only where it is in the best interests of the child and is the parents' choice."

Not once the distinction between education and schooling is made. Not once an acknowledgement that schools are unfriendly environments is made. The assumption seems to be that schools are the best environments for learning; and, if learning is not taking place, schools are still the best places for children to be in.

Fortunately, there are sensitive, caring parents out there, parents who see what others are oblivious to.

"Our kids are expected to cope with extreme stress throughout the day. They've had multiple sensory assaults, had to try to decode confusing social situations, been forced to try to learn on the same schedule as the rest of the class, and very likely have been bullied or taunted by classmates. They are coiled springs that have been held in a tightly compressed state until they can hold it no longer. Sometimes they explode at school. Sometimes all the anger and frustration come exploding out as soon as they can find a safe place to let it all go - and that's home." [from Lise Pyles' Homeschooling The Child With Aspergers Syndrome]

The reality is that secondary schools are a huge source of chronic stress for AS teens and therefore a major condition in the development of mental health problems. There's lots of highly intelligent aspie teens who, despite having more than the intellectual capability needed to cope with the curriculum, appear to be failing because the very structure of the system is totally unsuitable. Like Kevin Foley says, "Too many children with AS suffer 'meltdown' as a result of being forced to operate in environments that test their skills to breaking point and beyond. We need to ' personalise' our children's education so that this doesn't happen. We need to cast a cold eye on what currently passes for 'inclusion' and be aware of the daily reality for many of our children in mainstream schools"

Anyway, back to the debate! Andrew Pelling (Croydon Central, Conservative) said:"from the figures... and the response that I have had from secondary schools in my area, it seems that there is a tremendous lack of confidence that schools can deal with pupils with the condition."

Lee Scott talked about "a recent survey by the National Union of Teachers, which found that 44% of teachers are not confident in teaching children with ASD and that 39% are not confident in identifying children with ASD."

That still leave us with 66% of confident teachers. Are these the ones who, confident in their intellectually acquired ignorance, blame and exclude the children? There are many confident professionals out there, including those who reckon the best approach is to just give them an asbo!

Bill Rammell (Minister of State, Department for Education and Skills): "Most worrying of all is the finding of the Office for National Statistics that 27% of autistic children have been excluded at some point and that most of those 23% overall have been excluded more than once. That is a concern."

He continues: "worrying though those findings are, it is not possible to argue that we have a general crisis in provision for children with autism... we are not facing a picture that uniformly shows a system that is not delivering. Previous reports have suggested that about 70% of parents of autistic children are satisfied with the education that their children are receiving."

So what he's saying is: YES but No but... I wonder where he's getting his figures from... from home educating parents?

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